Excursion to the Interior

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When I was in 6th grade, my mother decided to take us to a place in the interior of Brazil where she had worked years before as a single missionary. We would leave the port of Belém, my hometown, by boat and set off on a 24 hour ride down the Amazon River to a city called Portel. The boat was a moderate size passenger boat. It was crowded with people – ribeirinhos – people who live along the river; old people, young adults with their families, merchants bearing their stock, and even tourists were all aboard. There was a catch though – there were no seats or rooms – everything was open! Instead, everyone had their own hammocks with their luggage on the ground beneath them. The trip itself was fast enough. Lillian, my sister, and I stood at the railing of the boat marveling at the impenetrable obscurity of the murky Amazon River or at the mysterious and vast jungle that sped by, unwilling to reveal its secrets to those too reluctant to venture into it. It was home to the caboclos (ribeirinhos) who resided in stilt houses built on the bank of the river on either side. Young children, yet experts on canoes, would occasionally paddle out in groups of two or three to the side of the passing boat. People on the boat would throw small food goods to them, mostly a cheap, yet satisfying, brand of popcorn. At one point, my mother pointed out something to us; other passengers had spotted the legendary “boto cor-de-rosa”, a pink river dolphin.

We arrived in Portel, where we would wait for our next ride. This time it would be on another, much smaller boat. My mother’s friends came from Ajará on a five meter boat referred to as a “pópópó” because of the distinctive, loud, and irritating sound its motor made. Since I was younger, my memories of Ajará are faint, though I do remember some more significant events. We arrived there after the 3 hour ride on the boat to Ajará and were shown to our quarters. The three of us were to stay in a cramped yet cozy room that put our hammocks up across the room. I have a fear of which I am not proud of, especially since I am native to Brazil. That fear is the disgust of roaches, which are strangely bigger and slimier in my land, and spiders, whose menacing eyes and skeletal, hairy legs seem to grow larger and stronger in humid climates. In our room were these spiders, though they only appeared occasionally. Their leg span was probably the breadth of my hand, yet I was terrified of them. To take baths we would take our soap and shampoo, jump into our swim suits, then go into the river. That was a lot of fun. Something that my mother got a kick out of was the coffee tree. Seu Aristeu, the man whose family we were staying with, would pick the coffee beans off a small tree and grind them on the spot, and we would have fresh coffee. The family’s hospitality was warm and welcoming, and they were generous with the little that they had. They were not wealthy – since we were in the interior there was no electricity and, as already mentioned, no showers. The only form of light at night was a couple bulbs powered by a generator. Of the days I remember, I will recount their happenings the best that the archives of my memory allow. One day, we went on a canoe ride down the narrow streams that came off the main river. There we saw how “farinha”, a typical Brazilian grain-like food, is made. On days that we stayed around the area, Lillian and I hung out with a kid called Martins, named after a missionary that had come to that area. He was a year younger than I, but because he had grown up in the area, he was extremely knowledgeable and skillful at things like chopping wood, swimming, paddling canoes and such activities. The advantage I held over him was my ability in soccer. When I went to play with Martin and his two friends in their sand court, I had fund doing something that I knew how to do better. Coming back from playing soccer one day, Martin suddenly said, “Stop!” He stood absolutely still. Eventually, he said that he had noticed a coral snake slither across the path in front of us, which was composed of two knocked down palm trees. “City-kids” like me rarely experience contact with such exotic specimens! Martin, who had learned to play drums from a recent passing visitor, played at the church in the community. I truly grew to admire such a talented eleven year-old! Since it was around New Years, there was a program held at that church. Many people came that night to attend the program – the small pier that cut into the river resembled a marine parking lot, so cluttered it was with small boats and canoes! Although I had a wonderful visit to Ajará, I was ready to go back. On the morning of the day that we were to depart, I recall waking up at 5:00 AM. I couldn’t fall back asleep and for a whole hour I anxiously waited for my mother to get us up. The worst part is that my dread of the brown spiders that silently crept on the walls came to me, and I ensured that every inch of my body was covered with my sheet until the glorious hour of 6:00 came and I could emerge out of my cocoon of a hammock and cease to fear the feral arachnids! Despite trivial events like this, I am glad that I had a chance to experience something so different in my own state and yearn for the day that I can refresh my memory and make another excursion to the interior!





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